Segregated schools are allowed if they are not district policy

A lawsuit by a Latino father says that Minnesota knowingly allowed towns and cities to establish policies and zoning boundaries that resulted in segregated schools (“How Do You Get Better Schools? Take the State to Court, More Advocates Say,” The New York Times, Aug. 21).  Although it is assumed that state courts are more receptive to such legal action than those at the federal level, that is not so.

In 1974, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Milliken v. Bradley that segregation is allowable as long as it is not the explicit policy of a school district.  In the present case, however, Minnesota is charged with knowingly doing so.  If lawyers for the plaintiffs can prove that is the case, they will prevail.

Of course, predicting outcomes is always risky.  For example, I never expected the Supreme Court’s ruling in 1973 that unequal school funding did not violate the U.S. Constitution.  Nor did I expect that a federal judge in Michigan would hold that “access to literacy” was not a fundamental federal right for students in the Detroit school system.

The right to what is called an “adequate” education is guaranteed in almost all state constitutions.  But exactly what such an education should look like is the basis for several lawsuits now underway.  That’s how lawyers earn their money.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

2 Replies to “Segregated schools are allowed if they are not district policy”

  1. Theory collides with reality on these issues.

    Theoretically, the state govt delegates to the local govts the authority/responsibility to provide education services. However, the state govt has an equal-protection obligation to treat citizens roughly equally and the state govt retains this obligation even if the state govt has delegated the education authority/responsibility to the local govts. It follows that if rich local govt A spends $16K/student and poor local govt B spends $8K/student, the state govt is treating the A students much better than the B students and apparently violating equal protection.

    Reality-speaking, however, if the courts apply this traditional equal-protection analysis to this situation, the result will probably be that all the local govts — rich and poor — spend around $8K/student (or perhaps a bit more). In other words, the taxpayers in the rich area A will not be willing to raise taxes enough so that all the students in the state are getting the $16K/student spending that the taxpayers in the rich area A are willing/able to spend on their students. In other words, the poor area students benefit only a little (if at all) from application of the equal protection analysis and the rich area students lose a lot.

    Usually, by 2018, the cause of the area A students getting $16K/student vs. the area B students getting $8K/student is differences in the affluence/SES levels in the two areas. The cause is NOT that the area A students are white and the area B students are black — although, of course, the area A students will often/usually be predominately white while the area B students will often/usually be predominately minority. In the 1950s in the South, the cause of the area A students getting the more $ was race. This is why Brown v. Bd of Ed struck down racial disparate education treatment but more recent court decisions do not strike down affluence/SES-level disparate treatment.

    Of course, if we were willing to take the equal-protection analysis to its fullest conclusion, progressive income tax rates would probably also be vulnerable to equal-protection challenge.


  2. Labor Lawyer: It’s hard to understand why the lawsuit filed on a state level is allowed to proceed in light of the Milliken v. Bradley ruling. I always assumed that the U.S. Supreme Court had the final say on such matters. Apparently, the issue is not that simple.


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